US and UAE hope to reach F35 deal by december
The United States and the United Arab Emirates hope to have an initial agreement on the sale of F-35 stealth fighter jets to the Gulf state in place by December, as the Trump administration studies how to structure a deal without running afoul of Israel.
The Reuters news agency, citing sources close to the negotiations, on Tuesday said the goal is to have a letter of agreement in place in time for UAE National Day, celebrated on December 2.
A Pentagon spokeswoman told Reuters: “As a matter of policy, the United States does not confirm or comment on proposed defence sales or transfers until they are formally notified to Congress.”
Once a letter of agreement is signed, a fine may be levied against any party that terminates the deal.
Several political and regulatory hurdles must be cleared before the sale can be completed and Capitol Hill aides cautioned a deal may not be possible this year.
The UAE, one of Washington’s closest Middle East allies, had long expressed interest in acquiring the stealth jets and had been promised a chance to buy them in a side deal made when they agreed to normalise relations with Israel in August.
Washington already demands that any F-35 sold to foreign governments cannot match the performance of US jets, said both a congressional staffer and a source familiar with past sales.
The F-35’s technical sophistication is tied to its mission systems and processing power. Either way, actual delivery of new jets is years away. Poland, the most recent F-35 customer, purchased 32 of the jets in January, but will not receive its first delivery until 2024.
Several political and regulatory hurdles must be cleared before the sale may be completed and Capitol Hill aides cautioned a deal may not be possible this year.
The rise of UAE as a reliable US ally
The UAE has in the past years been swiftly rising as a top US ally in the Middle East that can be relied on. The UAE’s geographical position places it at the forefront of what it and the US view as the Iranian threat, and is hence crucial in balancing that threat and ensuring that it does not grow. The UAE is also very active in developing its military and geopolitical position in the face of this threat, and the results of this can be observed not only in the domestic growth of the military but also the Southern Separatists in Yemen who they fund and back.
In the last few years, the US has realised the strategic importance of the UAE and their clear intent and has hence kept constant contact and collaboration with the Gulf State.
The most recent move that has propelled the UAE to being the US’s top strategic ally in the region was the recent deal between the former and Israel. Last month, Israel and the United Arab Emirates reached a deal to normalise relations, with Israel agreeing to suspend its controversial plans to annex parts of the occupied West Bank. In a surprise statement by US President Donald Trump, who helped broker it, the countries called the accord “historic” and a breakthrough toward peace. The United Arab Emirates has therefore become the first Gulf Arab country to reach a deal on normalising relations with Israel, capping years of discreet contacts between the two countries in commerce and technology.
Until now Israel has had no diplomatic relations with Gulf Arab countries. But shared worries over Iran have led to unofficial contacts between them.
As part of the deal between the United Arab Emirates and Israel, each country will base an embassy in the other country’s territory. Additionally, to connect the countries, direct air links would need to be established. Emirates and Etihad, as the home carriers in the United Arab Emirates.
This will inevitably substantially increase the US’s trust in the UAE, as the US views Israel’s stability as a fundamental objective in the Middle East, and the UAE may no longer be seen as a threat. However, reservations remain.
Does Israel still have its doubts?
Although it appears the latest Isreal-UAE deal could facilitate a clear partnership between the 2 nations as well as the US, it appears that the US and Israel still have their reservations.
The US has not budged on the stance that any deal must satisfy decades of agreements with Israel that says any US weapons sold to the region must not impair Israel’s “qualitative military edge”, guaranteeing US weapons furnished to Israel are “superior in capability” to those sold to its neighbours, including the UAE. With that in mind, Washington is studying ways to make Lockheed Martin’s F-35 more visible to Israeli radar systems, two sources told Reuters. The news agency said it could not determine if this would be done by changing the jet or providing Israel with better radar, among other possibilities.
Sources familiar with the negotiations said a working idea was for Israeli air defences to be able to detect the UAE’s F-35s with technology that effectively defeated the stealth capabilities of the jets. F-35 fighter jets sold to the UAE could also be built in a way that ensured the same planes owned by Israel outperformed any others sold in the region, defence experts said.
In Israel itself, the political class is divided over the possible sale of the state-of-the-art multi-role combat aircraft by the Jewish state’s closest ally.
“Let me remind you that the US sold Turkey and Iran, before the (1979 Islamic) revolution, very sophisticated weaponry, and now these countries are hostile towards Israel,” said Guzansky, a senior analyst at Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies
“The UAE is not hostile but things might happen. Maybe the regime will fall,” he said, also pointing to concerns over espionage by neighbouring Iran, which has a large expatriate community in the UAE.
It is therefore clear that although Israel and the US have acknowledged the positive steps forward taken in solidifying their relationship with the UAE, they still do not trust the nation fully, due to the possibility of the regime falling or the government changing its foreign policy under external pressure.